Nate Ebner, a safety for the New England Patriots, has been added to the U.S. rugby sevens roster that will compete in the Hong Kong leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series this weekend.
Ebner, who announced last month that he is taking a leave of absence from his NFL offseason training in an attempt to compete for the United States at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, was a rugby standout for the U.S. junior teams and at Ohio State before joining the Buckeyes football team as a walk-on his junior year. At age 17 he was the youngest player ever on the U.S. national sevens team. He twice was named most valuable player at the 2007 and 2008 junior world championships as part of the 15-a-side under-19 and under-20 teams.
|Nate Ebner gathers the loose ball during the IRB Junior World Cup at the Racecourse Ground on June 10, 2008 in Wrexham, Wales.
Ebner replaces Carlin Isles, who has been plagued by a nagging injury. It is unknown whether Isles will be available for the next leg of the series, April 16-17 in Singapore. Currently in fifth place after six legs, the U.S. has three more legs in the series after the Hong Kong stop.
Although he had never played football before college, he became a special teams standout on the Ohio State team, registering 30 tackles in 36 games from 2009-11. Drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, he continued to shine on special teams, playing in 30 of 32 games his first two years, and was part of the Super Bowl XLIX championship team. He signed a new two-year contract with the Patriots last month.
His rugby roots come from his father, Jeff, who was played collegiately at the University of Minnesota. The elder Ebner lost his life in November 2008 when he was beaten to death during an attempted robbery of the family business.
Ebner cites his father as his role model, telling ESPN in 2013 he “was my only role model. Looking back on it, you had your favorite players, but they were just players. But a role model, and the way you carry yourself and how you go about your work – what hard work really means – and to be a man…every aspect of life. To me, my dad was that role model, 100 percent. There wasn’t anyone else I wanted to be like more than him.”